Oklahoma fighting tournament history: 'Why not us?'

The Sooners will try to join the small group of No. 8-seeds to earn a bid into the Sweet 16 on Monday afternoon
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INDIANAPOLIS — The Oklahoma Sooners will be looking to fly in the face of history on Monday afternoon.

Matched up against star Jalen Suggs and his top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs inside Hinkle Fieldhouse, OU looks to join the small group of 8-seeds to have pulled the upset and reach the Sweet 16.

Jalen Suggs

Jalen Suggs

Through Sunday's action, No. 1 seeds are 121-20 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the second weekend 86 percent of the time.

The good news for the Sooners, however, is that 8-seeds actually fare much better versus the top-ranked teams, with a record of 14-55 (advancing 20 percent of the time) as opposed to 9-seeds, who historically have only won seven times, posting a record of 7-66 (10 percent).


HOW TO WATCH: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 8 Oklahoma, Monday at 1:40 p.m., CBS


The 2021 Tournament has been especially kind to lower-seeded teams, as four double-digit seeds made it through to the second round for the first time in tournament history.

Brady Manek said the success of underdogs so far in the tournament has not been lost on him.

"You kind of pull in that 'Why can't it be us?' type of thing," he said. "We've seen all these games. We've seen Ohio State go down, we've seen Texas go down, why can't that be us? Why can't we have that upset win that gets us one game closer to what we want?

"It's a crazy tournament, crazy games, that's why no one ever guesses it right, because just stuff out of nowhere happens."

OU coach Lon Kruger said the team has to have that "why not us?" mentality against the Bulldogs.

Elijah Ha

Elijah Ha

"That's the attitude you hope everyone has. I think probably the 32 teams left will have that attitude and should," Kruger said. "That's the only healthy way to look at it and it's great to hear Brady saying that.

"A lot of respect, of course, for Gonzaga in what they've done all year, but guys I know will be fired up and leave it all out there."

Gonzaga has found itself on the losing end one time as a 1-seed in the second round. In the 2013 tournament, the Bulldogs crashed out of the Big Dance at the hands of the 9-seed Wichita State Shockers, when freshman guard Fred VanVleet contributed 13 points off the bench to help pull the 76-70 upset.

Lon Kruger was also pulling the strings from the sideline the only other time the Sooners participated in a No. 1 versus No. 8 matchup in the second round. Oklahoma fell to the Virginia Cavaliers 63-51 in the 2019 tournament, when Manek scored 13 points in OU’s failed upset bid. Manek is the only player who played against the Cavaliers still with OU.

"I've played the 1-seed before. It's a tough game to play," Manek said. "Tough spot, but I think we've got what it takes to win. You just gotta go in with the right mindset and be ready to play."

In Oklahoma’s entire tournament history, the Sooners have matched up against a 1-seed only five times in any round, where the Sooners are a respectable 2-3.

Top-seeded teams are no longer unscathed either, as of the first game played in the second round on Sunday. 

Loyola Chicago already ousted No. 1 Illinois 71-58 to eliminate the first top seed in 2021, but OU just has to turn back the calendar to 2018 to find inspiration that it can join the Ramblers in the Sweet Sixteen.

A pair of 9-seeds made the Sweet Sixteen in 2018, when Florida State upset Xavier, and then Kansas State benefited from UMBC’s historic win against No. 1 Virginia in the first round.

"We definitely have nothing to lose," Manek said. "We are coming into this game wanting to win. And I also think we can win."